Orlando Magic's Top Priority is Everyone's Health and Safety

Magic CEO Alex Martins says situation is much bigger than basketball
by John Denton

ORLANDO – While continuing to stress that the health, safety and well-being of the players, coaches, staffers and fans of the Orlando Magic are of the utmost of importance, CEO Alex Martins said on Thursday that the organization wholeheartedly supports the NBA’s decision to temporarily suspend the season in hopes of curbing the spread of the coronavirus because, ``make no mistake about it: this situation is so much bigger than basketball.’’

In a shocking and unprecedented move, the NBA suspended its regular season on Wednesday night after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus. The Magic, who were scheduled to face the Chicago Bulls tonight at the Amway Center, will now await guidance from the NBA before resuming practice and preparation for games if-and/or-when the regular season resumes.

``As we’ve said from the very beginning of the COVID outbreak our top priority is the health and safety of our players, our fans, our staff, our sponsors and anyone that this organization comes in contact with,’’ Martins said. ``I would also say that our league has incredible leadership in our commissioner and our owners, and we certainly believe that the actions taken last night were the appropriate ones, to suspend the season and to make sure that we’re taking the health of our players, our fans and our staff into account.

``Make no mistake about it: This situation is so much bigger than basketball; this is a public health crisis,’’ Martins continued. ``It’s more important than finances, more important than playing games. We have to ensure the health and safety of not just our fans, our city and our region, but our entire country. We believe this is absolutely the right action.’’

Martins, who was joined by Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman and head coach Steve Clifford in a news conference at the Amway Center, confirmed on Thursday that Magic players, coaches and staffers returned home from Memphis on the same Delta Airlines charter plane that was used earlier on Tuesday to transport the Jazz and Gobert to Oklahoma City. A second Jazz player, star guard Donovan Mitchell, has since tested positive for coronavirus, according to various media reports published today.

Magic officials were in contact with Delta Airlines and medical staff into the early-morning hours of Thursday and a determination was made that the team’s travelling party was not considered to be ``exposed’’ to virus because of the disinfectant measures used on the plane prior to the squad’s flight from Memphis to Orlando. The NBA said that Delta uses Matrix Disinfectant/Cleaner No. 3 super concentrate to clean its aircrafts. The sanitizer is specifically designed and FAA-approved for use on airplanes and its strength is designed to kill the coronavirus strain.

``In terms of testing, I think it’s important for everybody to understand that CDC guidelines are such that no one can be tested unless you have symptoms and, as of right now, none of our players or any of our traveling party currently has symptoms,’’ Martins said.

Out of an abundance of caution, the team also postponed the Orlando Magic Wine Festival and Auction, which was scheduled to take place this weekend. The event is the franchise’s largest fundraiser and it used last year’s inaugural festival to donate $1,050,000 to 16 local non-profit organizations to benefit at-risk youth and local citizens in need. It was the 12thtime that the Magic have donated at least $1 million and the Orlando Magic Youth Foundation has given more than $25 million to those in need over the past 30 years.

``Again, the most important thing – one more time – is the health and safety of our fans, our players and our staff, so we made the determination early this morning that the Orlando Wine Festival and Auction will be postponed,’’ Martins said. ``It’s not in the best interest of public safety to gather a big crowd, call it some 600 people, together even though it’s in the interest of raising funds for the children of Central Florida. We’ll get back to doing it, and we will reschedule the event in some form once all of this dies down, so that we can get back to raising that money for the at-risk children of Central Florida.’’

Fans still wanting to help the Magic raise funds for the OMYF and those in need in the Central Florida community can go to wineauctionorlando.com to bid on items up for auction.

The suspension of the season comes at a time just as the Magic (30-35) have started to play their best basketball of the season. The Magic defeated the Grizzlies 120-115 in Memphis on Tuesday for their third straight win and their sixth victory in the past nine games. Currently, the Magic sit in the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference standings, a half-game back of No. 7 Brooklyn – a team they have beaten twice already this season. The Magic and Nets are scheduled to play twice more, but those games could now be in jeopardy.

Over its previous 12 games, an Orlando offense that struggled mightily early in the season has taken off and led to dramatically better play. Since Feb. 10, the Magic have gone 8-4 while ranking first in the NBA in scoring (120.8), first in assists per game (32.1), first in field goal makes per game (45.1), second in field goal percentage (48.6 percent) and 13thin 3-point percentage (37 percent).

Little to none of that matters now that the sports world has been hit hard by a virus that is spreading rapidly, head coach Steve Clifford said. While the NBA recently enacted measures to try and separate players and coaches from ``nonessential personnel’’ and briefly considered playing games without fans in the stands, the league acted quickly in suspending the season on Wednesday following the first positive tests of NBA players.

Weltman and Clifford were in total agreement that the league is doing the right thing in shutting down game action immediately. Clifford said the players were notified of the suspension of the season on Wednesday night and the team was scheduled to have a meeting on Thursday morning.

``Just to echo what Alex said, basketball is secondary, and this is problem for the country and the whole world, and health is first,’’ said Clifford, who noted that players have been told to remain in the area in case the season in resumed in a matter of days or weeks. ``I think our players would agree with that, too. So, that’s the mindset we should all have.’’

Said Weltman, the architect of a Magic team that could be poised for a second straight trip to the playoffs: ``It is jarring because it’s bigger than basketball. We all hear these bits of news and they come across our phones and on TV and the first thing you think of is the safety of your family and those around you. For us, those are our players and our fans. So, we’re all waking up to a somewhat new reality today and we have to, first and foremost, care about the health and safety of those around us. That’s framing everything that we talk about today.’’

Clifford said any practices that the Magic might hold will come only after being approved by the NBA.

``We’re going to find out, hopefully by today, when the league will (allow practice),’’ Clifford said. ``The league is always super organized with everything and I’m sure they will give us guidelines and we’ll know better about (practicing) by then.’’

Added Martins: ``The short-term guidance that we got this morning is to keep all of our players in town. Beyond that, as coach has said, the rest of the details will be communicated throughout the day to the teams.’’
If there might be something potentially positive to come out of the NBA suspending its season, it’s that it could show fans the seriousness of the pandemic that has not only affected the country, but also has people around the world in fear for their well-being. As Martins said repeatedly on Thursday, the rapid and rampant spread of the virus is infinitely bigger than basketball and he has faith that the NBA will continue to do the right thing to keep fans as safe as possible.

``Well, clearly this is a serious matter and as we discussed (on the NBA conference call on Wednesday), the NBA always takes a leadership position when it comes to major social issues in our country, and this is no different,’’ said Martins, who noted that the Magic will work with the City of Orlando to assist Amway Center employees affected by the loss of games. ``The NBA always does the right thing in simple terms. Hopefully others will follow (with season suspensions) and we’ve seen some of that already.

``Hopefully everyone does take the situation seriously,’’ added Martins, who refused to speculate as to whether the NBA season could be ended by this threat. ``All of the experts are saying the same thing – the best way to slow this down is for us to not gather in large groups. If we can focus on that and take care of each other and practice our healthy habits, hopefully it will be a short-term situation that we have to deal with.’’

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.

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